The first Manchester International Festival was held in 2007, taking over the city with an adventurous programme of original, new work. However, the first MIF production, a trailblazer event designed to show what the Festival was aiming to become, was staged a little earlier, in 2005 – exactly ten years ago. Gorillaz performing Demon Days Live was the first ever MIF event
‘I’d been to Mali with Damon [Albarn],’ relates Alex Poots, MIF’s Artistic Director since its inception, ‘and started to get to know him. Then, when Gorillaz exploded, we had the idea to try and stage Demon Days.’
Put like that, in two plain sentences, it sounds simple. But, of course, Gorillaz was a virtual band, the members of which – 2D, Noodle, Murdoc and Russel Hobbs – existed only as drawings and animations created by Damon’s collaborator, Jamie Hewlett. The idea to bring them to the stage – literally, adding an extra dimension to the group – seemed somewhere between absurd and impossible.
It wasn’t about getting the cartoon characters to the stage – it was about finding a way to present the galaxy of guest stars that had joined the animated quartet on the original Demon Days album. From Shaun Ryder to Ike Turner, it was a challenge bringing everyone together and creating an exciting show. ‘People came from all over to do the show – and to see it.’
The five-night run of Demon Days Live at the Opera House was a critically acclaimed sell-out, and a recording of the show topped the UK DVD charts the following year. Not only did it put the MIF on the Festival map, it also cemented one of MIF’s most important creative relationships – between the Festival and Damon Albarn. After Demon Days Live, Damon returned to create Monkey: Journey to the West for MIF07; and then wrote and starred in Dr Dee, an opera directed by Rufus Norris that premiered four years later.
Four years on from Dr Dee, Damon and Rufus came back to Manchester with wonder.land for MIF15, a new musical co-written with Moira Buffini. ‘I love Manchester,’ says Damon. ‘It’s very familiar and yet it’s an entirely different world to London. The time we spend there with any of these endeavours is key to their birth.’